Leaving Islam





Typically these groups target European countries allied with the United States in Iraq, as was proved by the Madrid bombings, the November 2003 attacks on British targets in Istanbul, as well as the lion's share of some 30 spectacular terrorist plots that have failed since September 11. In March 2004, within days of the London police chief's pronouncement that a local terrorist attack was "inevitable," his officers uncovered a plot involving nine British nationals of Pakistani origin and seized the largest cache of potential bomb-making material since the heyday of the Irish Republican Army. A few months later, Scotland Yard charged eight second-generation South Asian immigrants, reportedly trained in al Qaeda camps, with assembling a dirty bomb. Three of them had reconnaissance plans showing the layout of financial institutions in three U.S. cities.

Several hundred European militants -- including dozens of second-generation Dutch immigrants "wrestling with their identity," according to the Dutch intelligence service -- have also struck out for Iraq's Sunni Triangle. In turn, western Europe serves as a way station for mujahideen wounded in Iraq. The Iraq network belongs to an extensive structure developed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now formally bin Laden's sworn ally and the "emir" of al Qaeda in Iraq. Recently unsealed Spanish court documents suggest that at a meeting in Istanbul in February 2002, Zarqawi, anticipating a protracted war in Iraq, began to lay plans for a two-way underground railway to send European recruits to Iraq and Middle Eastern recruiters, as well as illegal aliens, to Europe. Zarqawi also activated sleeper cells established in European cities during the Bosnian conflict.

A chief terrorism investigator in Milan, Armando Spataro, says that "almost all European countries have been touched by [Iraq] recruiting," including, improbably, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. The recruitment methods of the Iraq network, which procures weapons in Germany from Balkan gangs, parallels those for the conflicts in Chechnya and Kashmir. Thanks to its state-of-the-art document-forging industry, Italy has become a base for dispatching volunteers. And Spain forms a trunk line with North Africa as well as a staging area for attacks in "al Andalus," the erstwhile Muslim Spanish caliphate.



Although for some Europeans the Madrid bombings were a watershed event comparable to the September 11 attacks in the United States, these Europeans form a minority, especially among politicians. Yet what Americans perceive as European complacency is easy to fathom. The September 11 attacks did not happen in Europe, and for a long time the continent's experience with terrorism mainly took the form of car bombs and booby-trapped trash cans. Terrorism is still seen as a crime problem, not an occasion for war. Moreover, some European officials believe that acquiescent policies toward the Middle East can offer protection. In fact, while bin Laden has selectively attacked the United States' allies in the Iraq war, he has offered a truce to those European states that have stayed out of the conflict.

With a few exceptions, European authorities shrink from the relatively stout legislative and security measures adopted in the United States. They prefer criminal surveillance and traditional prosecutions to launching a U.S.-style "war on terrorism" and mobilizing the military, establishing detention centers, enhancing border security, requiring machine-readable passports, expelling hate preachers, and lengthening notoriously light sentences for convicted terrorists. Germany's failure to convict conspirators in the September 11 attacks suggests that the European public, outside of France and now perhaps the Netherlands, is not ready for a war on terrorism.

Contrary to what many Americans concluded during Washington's dispute with Paris in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, France is the exception to general European complacency. Well before September 11, France had deployed the most robust counterterrorism regime of any Western country. Irish terrorism may have diverted British attention from jihad, as has Basque terrorism in Spain, but Algerian terrorism worked the opposite effect in France.

To prevent proselytizing among its mostly North African Muslim community, during the 1990s the energetic French state denied asylum to radical Islamists even while they were being welcomed by its neighbors. Fearing, as Kepel puts it, that contagion would turn "the social malaise felt by Muslims in the suburbs of major cities" into extremism and terrorism, the French government cracked down on jihadists, detaining suspects for as long as four days without charging them or allowing them access to a lawyer. Today no place of worship is off limits to the police in secular France. Hate speech is rewarded with a visit from the police, blacklisting, and the prospect of deportation. These practices are consistent with the strict Gallic assimilationist model that bars religion from the public sphere (hence the headscarf dispute).

Contrast the French approach to the United Kingdom's separatist form of multiculturalism, which offered radical Arab Islamists refuge and the opportunity to preach openly, while stepping up surveillance of them. French youth could still tune into jihadist messages on satellite television and the Internet, but in the United Kingdom open radical preaching spawned terrorist cells. Most of the rest of Europe adopted the relaxed British approach, but with less surveillance.


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